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    Jews & cats – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. As a follow-up to your recent answer about dogs, do Jewish sources say anything about cats?

    A. First, do not imagine that the Jewish surname “Katz” has anything to do with cats; it is the initials of Kohen Tzedek, “righteous priest”. There are very few references to cats in the classical sources, in contrast to, e.g. lions, oxen and even dogs. Various Talmudic passages note that cats chase mice and even chickens, and the sages noted that modesty and cleanliness are attributes of the cat. Hence there is even a statement that “Had the Torah not been given we could have learned modesty from the cat” (Eruvin 100b).

    A comment in Horayot 13a that a dog knows its master but a cat does not, might imply having domestic animals as pets, though some cat owners would disagree about whether their cats know them. It is said that some rabbis had animals as pets in order to fulfil the duty to feed one’s animals before oneself.

    A footnote about Katz: several other surnames rhyme with Katz, e.g. Matz and Schatz. They too are abbreviations. Matz is Moreh Tzedek, “righteous teacher”. Schatz is Sh‘li’ach Tzibbur, “delegate of the community”, i.e. officiant or cantor. Many well-known Jewish names such as these pre-dated the Austro-Hungarian imperial edict requiring Jews to have surnames.

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